In March of 2022, the song Heat Waves by UK band Glass Animals hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It had spent 58 weeks on the chart before reaching its peak; over a year gaining momentum and radio play. Clearly, the song has fans, but does it have serious competition? How can a song flounder around the charts for so long without even peaking?
There were multiple factors contributing to the song’s success, but one shouldn’t be overlooked. Everything else that week was boring.
Topping the Billboard Charts used to be a huge accomplishment, and it still is, but it’s becoming more formulaic and less popularity-driven. Record companies know what they need to do to produce a popular song, and they keep following the same blueprint. Now, it’s gotten to a point where it’s no longer interesting.
I’m not talking about the quality music that does get released. Rather, I’m talking about the stagnation of music and the lack of variety being promoted, particularly on the radio. If a song is going to be successful, there are two ways to rise to the top: become an organic smash, or create an environment where competition can’t succeed. Guess which one dominates the music industry at the moment.
What Makes a Hit?
When we look at the Billboard Hot 100, songs are ranked on three figures: single sales, streams, and radio impressions.
With each passing year, sales become less important. The days of sales driving songs to #1 are behind us, unless you’re an act like BTS with a fanbase that will buy multiple copies of your music. This means the biggest hits are built around streams and radio play.
Streaming is continuously rising in prominence. Billboard works to modify their charts to accurately account for streaming behaviors, collecting data from paid services like Apple Music and free sources like YouTube. Why? Because streaming keeps getting more popular and the charts need to adapt.
Meanwhile, it feels like radio is becoming less important. Yet its impact on the chart is very clear and it’s very…